Thursday, March 30, 2017

Girls and Gender Beliefs

This week’s article summary from The Atlantic is 6-Year-Old Girls Already Have Gendered Beliefs About Intelligence.

Teachers have been aware of the negative effects of gender stereotyping since the 1960s. Veteran educators remember the influence the book Reviving Ophelia had in urging teachers to be more cognizant of empowering girls in the classroom.

Although the research findings below were not surprising to me since we still live in a male-centric society, how early gender stereotyping occurs and its deleterious effect on female students were. 

The end of the article asks who is responsible for female students continuing to believe that boys are smarter and that math and science are subjects for boys, not girls. 

The culprit is a combination of factors led by an overarching societal norm reinforced by the media that consequently overtly and covertly influences our own attitudes and beliefs.

I know I’m fall prey to implicit gender bias (as well as other biases), but I try to be aware of always stressing how females have been and will be leaders, athletes, scientists, etc. 

I’ve seen much positive change in my lifetime yet as the study below attests, the is much more room for growth.



“There are lots of people at the place where I work, but there is one person who is really special. This person is really, really smart. This person figures out how to do things quickly and comes up with answers much faster and better than anyone else. This person is really, really smart.”

Linn Bian, a psychologist at the University of Illinois, read this story out to children, aged 5 to 7. She then showed them pictures of four adults—two men and two women—and asked them to guess which was the protagonist of the story. She also gave them two further tests: one in which they had to guess which adult in a pair was “really, really smart”, and another where they had to match attributes like “smart” or “nice” to pictures of unfamiliar men and women.
The results were stark. Among the 5-year-olds, both boys and girls associated brilliance with their own gender. But among those aged 6 or 7, only the boys still held to that view.

At an age when girls tend to outperform boys at school, and when children in general show large positive biases towards their own in-groups, the girls became less likely than boys to attribute brilliance to their own gender.

You could frame that as a good thing: While boys continued to believe in their own brilliance, the girls, on average, developed a more equal view. But that view has consequences—Bian also found that the older girls were less interested in games that were meant for “really, really smart” children.

The stereotype that brilliance and genius are male traits is common among adults. In various surveys, men rate their intelligence more favorably than women, and in a recent study of college undergraduates, men overrated the abilities of male students above equally talented and outspoken women.

But Bian’s study shows that the seeds of this pernicious bias are planted at a very early age. By the age of 6, boys and girls are already diverging in who they think is smart.

“The stereotype has an immediate impact,” Bian adds. “In the long-term it will steer away many young women from careers that are thought to require brilliance.”

“Not only do we need to break down the ‘science is male’ stereotype, but now we need to break down a ‘brilliance is male’ stereotype, too.”

Why do these beliefs occur? It’s not to do with actual ability. At that age, girls tend to outclass their male peers—and the girls in Bian’s study knew it. When she showed them pictures of four children and asked them to guess who got the best grades, the older girls were actually more likely to pick girls than the older boys were to pick boys. “Everyone agreed that girls do better in school but that didn’t seem to matter,” says Bian.

Why? Parents, perhaps? Parents tend to think that their sons are brighter than their daughters, and they’re 2.5 times more likely  to do a google search for “Is my son gifted?” than “Is my daughter gifted?” Their teachers could be another font of stereotypes. So could the characters in the movies they see and the books they read.

“We have to be more deliberate about presenting examples of brilliant women to girls and boys as young as five to help them avoid developing this association. Brilliant women exist, like Rosalind Franklin, Shirley Jackson, Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie, and Katherine G. Johnson, whose story is popularized in Hidden Figures.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Engaging Students in School and the Classroom

This week’s article summary from the American Journal of Education is Reflectiveness, Adaptivity, and Support: How Teacher Agency Promotes Student Engagement.

The work we did last year identifying the six pillars of our program affirmed a vital outcome of a Trinity education: Building upon children’s innate curiosity in fostering their continued engagement in and excitement for school and life-long learning.

This article resonated for me in its categorization of the different types of student engagement: behavioral, emotional, cognitive.

Then it shared research on ways to optimize student engagement in the classroom, e.g., positive classroom climate, high teacher expectations, opportunities for student voice and choice.

Finally, the article highlighted the characteristics teachers who consistently engage students possess. I was especially intrigued with teachers being able to prioritize the curriculum and to reflect on their teaching effectiveness.

This article reminded of the theme of Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. According to Pink, the three essential needs that motivate kids (and adults) to learn and to be productive (hence to be engaged) are autonomy (the desire to direct our own lives), mastery (the urge to get better at something that matters), and purpose (the yearning to do what we do in service of something larger and more enduring than ourselves).

Since its founding, Trinity has worked to create a culture that allows all of us—students, faculty/staff, and parents—to be known, to make a difference, and to be empowered to develop a confident sense of self.

And as the article attests, this doesn’t result from happenstance but from specific qualities teacher display and continue to hone.



Student engagement in school is fundamental to positive educational and life outcomes, including learning, achievement, graduation, and persistence in higher education.

By contrast, disengagement can be a precursor to negative outcomes, including low achievement, social and emotional withdrawal, and dropping out.

What are the key variables in capturing and maintaining students’ engagement?

Student engagement falls into a number of categories:
  • Behavioral engagement: participating, staying on task, and completing assignments
  • Emotional engagement: feeling happy, interested, and comfortable in class
  • Cognitive engagement: exerting mental effort to learn

Additionally, student engagement requires the following:
  • Positive classroom climate: students have a sense of belonging in a caring, structured learning environment with high, clear, and fair expectations
  • Teacher support: Students form an emotional connection to the teacher
  • Academic rigor: There is an academic tone, high cognitive demand, and students are pushed to work hard
  • Lively teaching and active learning: students have opportunities to learn in groups and work on projects that have real-life relevance
  • Efficacy: students feel competent and have a degree of autonomy in the classroom

Teachers who consistently engage their student possess the following characteristics:
  • Notice students’ level of engagement on their faces and modify classroom strategies or make sure troubled students saw a counselor
  • Are attuned to students’ outside-of-school problems and address them in class or in private conversations
  • Prioritize curriculum standards and work to make them engaging
  • Are more reflective about instruction, open-minded, inquisitive, and adaptive, with a stronger sense of agency

Teachers who are less effective engaging students are:
  • Less likely to see students’ responses as providing guidance for improving their teaching
  • More removed, abstract, and theoretical when talking about their teaching, using phrases like “teachers should do” rather than “I do”
  • More likely to feel overwhelmed by curriculum standards and see them as impossible to get through and engage students
  • Lacking in a sense of agency about being able to change and improve student engagement, often ascribing students’ lack of engagement to negative factors outside the school or just the way students were.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Avoiding a False Growth Mindset

This week’s article summary from The Atlantic is How Praise Became a Consolation Prize.

Carol Dweck’s growth mindset has been a major influence in many schools for the past ten years or so.

But just as Frankenstein’s monster grew beyond the doctor’s intention (to create life), Dweck discovered that many of us misunderstand and misuse what her research reveals.

As such, she has been on an extended tour clarifying and redirecting teachers and parents on how to properly foster a growth mindset in children (and themselves).

To Dweck, many of us subscribe to a simplistic growth mindset ‘lite' which leads to poor implementation and results in kids forming a false growth mindset.  

She feels that the greatest misuse is praising effort only, rather than on how effort contributes to the intended successful outcome.

For Dweck, the goal is to learn and improve, not just to try. 

The error many teachers and parents make is over praising a child's effort regardless of the outcome. 

In baseball, for example, it doesn’t help to keep telling a player who always strikes out to keep working hard and trying. From an empathy perspective, we know how bad it feels to always walk back to the dugout without ever hitting the ball. Clearly the child’s effort is not leading to a successful outcome, and he/she must re-strategize how to learn to hit a baseball. 

We don’t want the player to think he/she can never hit, yet we need to connect effort to the intended outcome and, if needed, help the child come up with a new strategy (and maybe a new batting coach).

I’m sure many of us can think of situations when our effort no matter how great was not enough to lead to achievement, proficiency, and mastery—and for Dweck always connecting the effort to the intended outcome has been lacking in how many of us try to instill in our kids a growth mindset.



In her research, Carol Dweck identified two core mindsets, or beliefs, about one’s own traits that shape how people approach challenges: fixed mindset, the belief that one’s abilities were carved in stone and predetermined at birth, and growth mindset, the belief that one’s skills and qualities could be cultivated through effort and perseverance.

But Dweck recently noticed a trend: a widespread embrace of what she refers to as false growth mindset—a misunderstanding of the idea’s core message.

Growth mindset’s popularity led some teachers to think it was simpler than it was, that it was only about putting forth effort or that a teacher could foster growth mindset merely by telling kids to try hard. But empty praise can exacerbate some of the very problems that growth mindset is intended to counter.

I recently spoke with Dweck about how she wants her ideas to be applied.

Growth mindset is now so popular that I’ll hear people who aren’t steeped in educational theory say, “Praise the effort, not the child (or the outcome).” Why do you think this idea struck such a chord, and how did you find out there were people misunderstanding it?
Many educators, and many parents, were excited to implement something that might energize kids to focus on learning, not just memorization and test taking, but on deeper, more joyful learning. But often teachers do not understand a growth mindset deeply. I started keeping a list of all the ways people were misunderstanding growth mindset. When the list got long enough, I started speaking and writing about it.

Could you elaborate on false growth mindset?
False growth mindset is saying you have growth mindset when you don't really have it or you don’t really understand what it is. It’s also false in the sense that nobody has a growth mindset in everything all the time. Everyone is a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets. You could have a growth mindset in an area but there can still be things that trigger you into a fixed mindset trait. Something really challenging and outside your comfort zone can trigger it, or, if you encounter someone who is much better than you at something you pride yourself on, you can think “Oh, that person has ability, not me.” We all, students and adults, have to look for our fixed-mindset triggers and understand when we are falling into that mindset. A lot of what happened with false growth mindset among educators is that instead of taking this long and difficult journey, where you work on understanding your triggers, working with them, and over time being able to stay in a growth mindset more and more, many educators just said, “I have a growth mindset” because either they know it’s the right mindset to have or they understood it in a way that made it seem easy.  

Why do you think these misunderstandings occurred?

The most common misunderstanding of growth mindset is the oversimplification of growth mindset into being about effort only. Students know that if they aren’t making progress and you’re praising them, it’s a consolation prize. So this kind of growth-mindset idea was misappropriated to try to make kids feel good when they were not achieving. The mindset ideas were developed as a counter to the self-esteem movement of blanketing everyone with praise, whether deserved or not. The whole idea of growth-mindset praise is to focus on the learning process. When you focus on effort, you have to show how effort created learning progress or success.

What should people do to avoid falling into this trap?

A lot of parents or teachers say praise the effort, not the outcome. That’s wrong: Praise the effort that led to the outcome or learning progress; tie the praise to it. It’s not just effort, but strategy. Effective teachers who have classrooms full of children with a growth mindset are always supporting children’s learning strategies and showing how strategies created that success. Students need to know that if they’re stuck, they don’t need just effort. You don’t want them redoubling their efforts with the same ineffective strategies. You want them to know when to ask for help.

Is there a right way to praise kids and encourage them to do well?

A new line of research indicates that the way a parent reacts to a child’s failure conveys a mindset to a child regardless of the parent’s mindset. If parents react to their child’s failures as though there is something negative, if they rush in, are anxious, reassure the child, “Oh not everyone can be good at math, don’t worry, you’re good at other things,” the child gets it that no, this is important, and it’s fixed. That child is developing a fixed mindset, even if the parent has a growth mindset. But if the parent reacts to a child’s failure as though it’s something that enhances learning, asking, “Okay, what is this teaching us? Where should we go next? Should we talk to the teacher about how we can learn this better?” that child comes to understand that abilities can be developed. So, with praise, focus on “process praise”—focus on the learning process and show how hard work, good strategies, and good use of resources lead to better learning. You can see evidence of fixed mindset as young as 3.5 or 4 years old; that’s when mindsets can start becoming evident, where some kids are very upset when they make a mistake or get criticized and fall into a helpless place. That’s when children become able to evaluate themselves. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Boy? Girl? Agender?

This week’s article summary is Boy? Girl? A New Generation Ovethrows Gender.

Last week’s article summary introduced a new term, adulting, and this week’s introduces the term agender

In my previous headship, I did a lot of school accreditation visits. Different from Trinity’s accreditation organization SAIS, the Midwest’s ISACS asked schools to write as many as 37 reports about aspects of the school, including one on Equity and Justice. When I would meet with groups of trustees, parents, faculty, and administration, I always asked the same litmus-test question to gauge where a school was on the diversity spectrum: “What is your school’s position on same-sex families and gay/lesbian faculty and students?”

Five to ten years ago one’s opinion about same-sex issues was the frontier of diversity, just as race was in the 60s and 70s and feminism in the 80s and 90s.

And today, when many of us have been learning about gender identity, the frontier is moving again: this time to agenderism--not identifying or expressing as either male or female but a little bit of both.

For me, empathy—be it through my own experiences, feelings, or rational thinking and reflection—has been the foundation of my diversity journey, both personal and professional. As I was raised by open-minded, free-thinking parents and attended liberal, diverse private-independent high school and college, it’s not too surprising I lean that way as an adult. 

Whenever I learn about someone or some group being marginalized, I think about how sad it is to be the one on the outside looking in; to have to hide aspects of one’s identity; to be teased and bullied; to be alone, ignored, and invisible.

The article below is an introduction to this new frontier of being agender and its implications for our society, our schools, and for ourselves.



Max, age 13, does not identify as male. Ordinarily, that would be enough to deduce Max’s gender. But Max does not identify as female, either. Max is agender. When referring to Max, you don’t use “he” or “she;” you use “they.” Once strictly a pronoun of the plural variety, “they” is now doing double duty as singular, referring to individuals who do not see gender as an either/or option.

Max explains: “What agender means is I’m neither guy or girl, and that’s how I feel, which is different than terms like ‘gender fluid’—which means you feel like a guy or girl at different times—because I don’t feel like I’m both guy and girl; I’m neither.”

If same-sex marriage was yesterday’s battle to redefine gender roles and privileges, and transgender rights today’s, we just may be on the cusp of the most transformational stage yet. 

This phenomenon involves the splintering of what heretofore has been one of the most resilient organizing principles of American society—the division of the entire human race into male and female.

These individuals may use any number of terms to describe their gender identity: genderqueer, gender-fluid, gender creative, gender-expansive. While definitions fluctuate, “nonbinary gender” has emerged as an umbrella description.

How widespread is the nonbinary phenomenon? The results of the most recent survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality revealed that out of almost 28,000 respondents, more than a third chose “nonbinary/genderqueer” when given a choice of terms to best describe themselves.

And there is growing evidence that even those outside the transgender community are buying in.

A 2015 survey of 1,000 people age 18-34 found just 46 percent agreed that “there are only two genders, male and female.” Fifty percent, meanwhile, said “gender is a spectrum, and some people fall outside conventional categories.”

As more people redefine their gender identity in nonbinary terms, schools, governments, workplaces and parents are having to adapt.

The California Healthy Youth Act of 2015 requires comprehensive sex education for grades 7-12 to “teach pupils about gender, gender expression, gender identity, and explore the harm of negative gender stereotypes.”

Official recognition of nonbinary gender appears to be accelerating. Last June, a county circuit court judge in Oregon, in what transgender advocates believed was a first in the U.S., affirmed the legal change of 52-year-old’s gender from female to “nonbinary.”

Max’s mother acknowledges she was clueless about gender issues when Max came out.  “Sexuality–no big deal,” she says, explaining the commitment she and Max’s father have always made to gay and lesbian rights.

But Max’s nonbinary identity definitely threw her. “I was taken very much by surprise in terms of gender. It came from left field, I knew nothing, I was scared.”

“It’s a lot harder as nonbinary than trans,” Max says. “I’m not saying it’s not hard as trans, but you can’t really say ‘Oh I’m not a boy, I’m a girl.’ If you say ‘I’m not a boy, I’m not a girl’—so what’s left? It’s hard to define what that means.”

That is an existential quandary with real-world implications.

While the question of who can go to the bathroom where may sound prosaic, about a third of transgender people have reported abstaining from eating or drinking in order to avoid using one, because of frequent harassment and confrontations.

At school, Max would use the boy’s room only during class, when it was less crowded, and only when desperate. They didn’t like to use the girls’ room, either.

“It would just feel like ‘I’m in the wrong place, I’m not supposed to be here,” Max says. “Something in your stomach—this just doesn’t feel right.” The family lobbied Max’s school for a gender-neutral bathroom. It took awhile, but the school converted a faculty restroom, which can now be used by anyone.

The acceptable rules and privileges within a binary male-female gender system have long been challenged, and ultimately expanded, by feminists and LGBT activists. And while the concept of other genders may be novel to Americans, it’s nothing new to many cultures around the world.
The biologist Ann Fausto Sterling titled her seminal 1993 essay about individuals who are born with ambiguous sex characteristics “The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are Not Enough.” “If the state and the legal system have an interest in maintaining a two-party sexual system, they are in defiance of nature,” she wrote. “For, biologically speaking, there are many gradations running from female to male.”

Underlying the nonbinary phenomenon is the belief that gender is a social construct. This view sees the duality of gender, so entrenched in human society, as not a fundamental truth, but a perspective.

For the current generation of nonbinary pioneers the issue isn’t the ultimate success of a breakthrough vision of gender, it’s a matter of simple truthfulness and dignity.